The neglected enemy of Solar: vegetation

The neglected enemy of Solar: vegetation

Investing in a ground-mounted solar field or a “solar farm” for your business or community is was a wonderful choice to achieve the goal of being environmentally friendly. However, like a house plant, if you neglect to take of it, your system will begin to wilt and will produce a fraction of the total energy that the system was designed to output. 

What is O&M? 

O&M stands for operation and maintenance. All equipment needs regular maintenance otherwise it will break down. Think of a car – if you do not ever change the oil, the engine will eventually break down. Many things need to be monitored to ensure the system is operating to its full potential, but for this article, we will focus on vegetation. 

Why do I need to worry about vegetation? 

Imagine you have a garden. As you are watering the plants, you notice that your tomato plant has weeds around the base. What do you do? You pull the weed! Why? Because weeds prevent plants reach their full potential. Vegetation has a similar effect on solar panels as weeds do on your garden plants. 

Ground-mounted solar panels need to be unobstructed to properly work; it does not matter if the panels are stationary or on a tilt system. It is very common for an organization to neglect vegetative maintenance (VM) of their solar system – out of sight, out of mind – but as you can see in the photo below, Ethan is almost chest-deep in greenery!

OvergrownVegetation copyThis system is working great, but it can be doing so much better if all those plants were being maintained!

What are the consequences of bad vegetative maintenance? 

Other than the panels having an obstructed view of the sun, what else could go wrong? Well actually, quite a few things! 

Overgrown plants and weeds can lead to soil erosion which can negatively affect the base of the support structure. Tallgrass also attracts wildlife of all shapes and sizes. All it takes is one animal to burrow into the inground powerlines or for a field mouse to think a power box would make for an excellent summer home and BOOM! Now you have a much bigger problem on your hands and your solar field could be out of commission for days. 

What needs to be done in terms of vegetative maintenance? 

Multiple things need to be done, mowing the grass (and bagging it), applying herbicide, seeding, walk-throughs, and fence maintenance. These things should be done regularly and are simple ways to preventative work. 

Ok, but who will do all this work? 

Solar fields come in all shapes and sizes; a one-megawatt system tends to take up roughly eight acres of land. Knobelsdorff, and many other solar installers, offer a VM plan after the initial installation of a system and will continue maintenance over the lifetime of the system. Many third-party companies specialize in solar O&M. But are careful of whom you pick! While selecting a service from a specialized company seems like it would be a great idea, when there is a major system error, they might not have the means of addressing the issue. 

Knobelsdorff has a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to not only installing solar systems but maintaining them as well. By selecting O&M services from the company that installed the system you know that you have expert electricians on speed dial to address any system issues. 

Conclusion 

Maintaining the lawn of your solar system can seem like a needless job, but it is the most important one. As summer progresses, ask yourself if you know that your solar system is getting the regular maintenance that it needs. If it is not, it might be time to call Knobelsdorff.